“What’s that neighbourhood there on the left?” my voice was slightly strained, the taxi drivers’ creative driving technique left me just a little on edge,
“Kiryat Menachem, it was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, in fact my mother almost bought an apartment there”.
“Really” it was the polite South African in me speaking,
“Yes, and then I would have probably been a drug addict.” He said it matter of factly. He caught me off guard,
“No, I don’t believe it for a second” said I, not quite sure if did or I didn’t.
“It’s like the goldfish in the fish bowl” he continued, ” Do you know what happens if you put a big goldfish in a small bowl, before he’s fully grown?” I didn’t, “he will only grow to fit the size of the bowl, the big fish will remain small!” Triumphant, the message was clear – if goldfish would stay small he would have been a drug addict.(He’s actually wrong and goldfish can actually grow to 40cm and should live for 20 years. It’s just that most goldfish owners are very bad at the job and land up killing their fishy friends. But forget the facts for the moment and enjoy the relevance of the analogy if it would have been true!!)
We continued our slightly harrowing journey as he whizzed and dodged through the peak hour traffic, and in between focussing on deep breathing, mouthing confessions and saying the shma, I thought about his message. The influence of our surroundings. It is jarring what a powerful effect our environment has on the molding of our selves.
Oxana tragically demonstrates this idea. Oxana Malaya was neglected by her alcoholic parents and was adopted by a pack of wild dogs. It sounds like a fable, but Oxana is now in a home in the Ukraine, and the tragic reality is that she behaves completely like a dog. She walks on all fours and barks and shies away from all human contact. Psychologists have tried to rehabilitate her, but haven’t succeeded in even getting her to begin communicating with other humans.
When I heard her story, the point that shocked me the most, was the indelible impression that her “environment” made on her. She was raised by dogs and she became almost completely dog-like in everything she did and I would imagine in her thoughts as well.
So I suppose we don’t really need the false goldfish analogy, to figure out that the influence of environment, especially at a young age, is terrifying in the power that it wields.